Brad Ortenzi has dedicated his career to ending human trafficking and the exploitation of children.
Ortenzi began working in law enforcement in 1994, but his focus on human trafficking didn’t begin until about 15 years later. He was working as a a detective for the Ephrata Police when the department began building a unit dedicated to the issue of child pornography.
“My job was to go online undercover and see if there was anyone willing to trade child pornography with me,” he said. When someone was, he would engage the suspect and work to identify their location.
Ortenzi was required to view the content and document it for affidavits and court orders that would advance the investigation. The heinousness of the crimes changed him, he said, and inspired a passion for combating child exploitation.
In 2014, he retired from a 23-year long career in local law enforcement to pursue an opportunity working as the Director of Child Rescue in Thailand with ZOE International, an evangelical missions organization devoted to ending child trafficking globally.
He and his wife, Lori, would spend five years in Thailand, working with the Royal Thai Police, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. They helped run investigations and built partnerships that would further ZOE’s efforts.
After returning stateside, Ortenzi continued working for ZOE International, serving as Eastern USA Regional Director. Meanwhile, he began speaking on panels for North Star Initiative, an organization that combats human trafficking in Lancaster County.
Through these speaking engagements, he was reunited with Karen Mansfield, an assistant district attorney for Lancaster County and a former colleague from the Ephrata Police Department. Mansfield approached Ortenzi, proposing that the county could use someone with his expertise and experience to help organize and coordinate a human trafficking task force that it was planning.
The task force launched in January 2022. In a statement this month marking its first anniversary, District Attorney Heather Adams said the task force made 30 arrests in 2022, including nine resulting from three sting operations involving a detective posing as a minor.
Ortenzi is the task force coordinator. His role is made possible through a partnership with ZOE International, which donates his time.
He and his colleagues work to combine the efforts of restorative services available in the county with law enforcement. The task force involves 14 agencies and organizations, a number that Ortenzi believes will continue to grow.
“When there’s someone that’s pulled from trafficking here in Lancaster County, [we want] to give them the best fighting chance to have a restored life,” Ortenzi says. “Second, [we] give law enforcement everything they need to put the bad guys in jail. …
“The victim comes first. The prosecution and the bad guy come second. First off, [everybody is] concentrating on the victim.”
When someone is rescued from trafficking, Ortenzi looks at what resources might be needed and which providers would be best suited to assist. The task force coordinates with multiple local organizations that can shelter the victim, help with recovery from substance abuse and assist with overall recovery.
Meanwhile, he keeps the lines of communication open between law enforcement and victim services organizations. He says his background as a detective helps, as did his time in Thailand.
He’s also involved in providing training for staff at county agencies, such as Children & Youth. He is available to consult and provide training to area nonprofits and companies as well.
As the task force grows, Ortenzi said he has been asked to begin building similar organizations in Berks and Lehigh counties. There is opportunity to expand collaborative efforts regionally and statewide, he said.
He returns to Thailand on occasion to visit some of the individuals he worked with during his time there and see the continuation of those efforts. That ultimately inspires and motivates him to continue engaging in the fight, he said.
“Most of those children just needed a chance,” Ortenzi said. “To see how well they do afterwards, that’s everything.”